Music News

Modern English

You haven't forgotten Modern English, have you? Dontcha remember that one time they stopped the whole world? Melted for us, they did. But that was long, long ago (just check the date range of this greatest-hits collection), and the British act never forged a legacy beyond one-hit-wonder status. Life in the Gladhouse attempts to rebuild and preserve whatever fragile edifice Modern English may have once enjoyed by pulling tracks out the vaults from its unheard and long-out-of-print 1981 debut, Mesh and Lace. Along with items from the two subsequent releases -- After the Snow and Ricochet Days -- that are more familiar to American ears, the retrospective is likely a response to those who wondered if the band was capable of anything more than "I Melt with You," the 1982 single that wouldn't die. Opening with the grim guitarscape and simplistic percussion of "16 Days" is sure to shock anyone expecting the sunniness of Modern English's ubiquitous hit, which doesn't rear its head until track three. Contrasting greatly with the Mesh and Lace-era material and its hopelessly dark and claustrophobic morass, "I Melt with You" makes an abrupt entrance, sounding as if someone just changed the radio station.

Did Modern English have anything else to offer but one irresistibly dumb song, those impeccable 23 Envelope sleeves (pressed flowers, crushed foil, tracing paper) and silly haircuts? Yeah, some of the primal punk exercises compiled here fill up missing gaps in the evolution of uncompromising British punk into stylish, fashion-conscious New Wave, and the band's hapless stabs at recapturing the appeal of "I Melt with You" occasionally make for decent, if uneventful, FM-radio nostalgia, such as the chiming, dramatic "Ricochet Days" and the propulsive "Machines." Thank goodness Life in the Gladhouse makes no attempt to go past 1984, by which time the band's missteps had become embarrassingly cheesy. Remember that one time they remade "I Melt with You"?

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton